The artist Jeanne Susplugas explores all media, from video to ceramics, and questions the individual’s relationship to the self and others. She is presenting her first work in virtual reality, I will sleep when I’m dead (2020), at the ON festival in Arles followed by Chroniques, the Biennale of Digital Imagination.
Visual artist, Doctor of Art History, video artist... Since the late 1990s, your artistic work has explored human psychology, society, our addictions and our relationship to the self and others. Why have you used virtual reality (VR) in your recent projects?
My virtual reality project stems from a process I started in 2016 with the series of drawings In my Brain. A series of “neuro-portraits” that result from the simple question: “what are you thinking about?” These portraits are represented by a brain with a cloud of neurons and thoughts emanating from it. In 2019 I created a piece on Snapchat for a digital event at Le Bon Marché, a short journey through my drawings of neurons and thoughts. The algorithm of this experience tricked a lot of people, including those working in virtual reality. This piece was a bit of a light bulb moment that prompted me to go further in my use of virtual reality. I found that it could serve as the articulation or the point of continuity between my previous work and the representation of the brain’s infinite possibilities. The medium is there to facilitate ideas.
In 2019, you took part in a writing residency initiated by the Institut français and the VR Arles Festival with your first work in virtual reality, I will sleep when I’m dead. What did you take away from this experience?
Before the residency, my knowledge of virtual reality was relatively superficial, so it helped me understand the issues involved in such a project. It offers the opportunity to meet different representatives who open up the field of possibilities. I also had access to other virtual reality experiences that helped me expand my culture in this sector.
Did being in contact with people from other artistic fields during the residency have an impact on your own work?
The multitude and diversity of the people involved helped me to ask the right questions in terms of the value of embarking on such a project. These different people helped get me through any moments of doubt and strengthen my positions. Lots of people in VR come from video games and can't see other options. I wanted to retain an interactive dimension while highlighting the dreamlike quality. The difficulty was making sure that the interactivity is imperceptible in order to enter into a journey through the subconscious.
Could you explain the title and meaning of this piece, I will sleep when I’m dead?
The title for the piece is borrowed from Bon Jovi’s eponymous song. It evokes the idea that our brain is constantly subjected to or even submerged in ideas.
You are also presenting this piece at the Octobre Numérique (ON) festival in Arles and at the Ardénome-EDIS art foundation as part of a solo exhibition, J’ai fait ta maison dans ma boîte crânienne. How do you view the connection between works in virtual reality and this installation? Is the creative process with a work of virtual reality similar to your usual approach as a visual artist?
I will sleep when I’m dead will be launched on 3 October in Arles as part of the ON festival directed by Julie Miguirditchian. My exhibition at the Ardénome will give me the opportunity to show the piece in the form of an installation, but also in resonance with other pieces that provide a better understanding of my project in virtual reality. The installation at the Ardénome is a visual and symbolic extension of the experience in virtual reality. The house presents itself as a set that you enter through a small door that introduces a physical constraint. This set allows you to isolate yourself and settle in comfortably. Away from prying eyes, the dreamlike experience can be fully entered into. Once the headset is on, you see this grey house, this time levitating, a symbol of the cranium. The house has been one of the common threads of my work ever since La Maison malade (1999), and elsewhere in the arts centre with Flying House (2017) in particular. A symbol of privacy, the house allows me to address a host of aspects in day-to-day distortions.
You will be taking part in a panel discussion at the event on the way the human brain functions, alongside scientists and psychiatrists. How do you view the exchanges between art and science?
The majority of my projects start with discussions with specialists, be they pharmacists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists, doctors... I’ve been working for a long time with Mario Blaise, a psychiatrist specialising in addiction, who will be present at the panel discussion with Perrine Ruby, a neuroscientist specialising in dreams and Maxence Grugier, the moderator. My relationship with science is above all about perceptions and emotions. I would have liked Corine Sombrun, a writer and shaman, to be there but she wasn’t available. It would have made sense for her to be there because I’ve also been working with other figures for years, like the pair of energy practitioners, Clotilde Ruinart de Brimont & Patrice Tasi, whom I contacted in 2019 for an exhibition on “parallel therapies” at the Atelier des Vertus, which I co-curated with Clément Thibault, and asked them to do the hanging according to the energy in the exhibition venue and using lithotherapy.
Your work speaks of isolation, the house or home, privacy. How has the lockdown that we have all experienced due to COVID-19 influenced your work?
I spend a lot of time alone drawing, reading, thinking, so the lockdown hasn’t really been too difficult for me. I was contacted a great deal during this period for interviews, which forced me to mentally revisit my work. The home is a physical and psychic cocoon, a place of joy and tragedy. While it protects us, we may at times want to escape it. Lockdown has brought out the best and the worst in us – domestic violence rocketed during the period. Lockdown and the public health crisis both influence my work, which was already closely connected to these issues. I was also invited by the Jeu de Paume in Paris to work on a project about relationships between couples during lockdown.
What are your upcoming projects?
I have a solo exhibition until 10 January 2021 at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier as part of the 800th anniversary of the Faculty of Medicine – a hanging in the form of a dialogue with the collections of the department of decorative arts at the Hôtel Cabrières-Sabatier d’Espeyran. I’ve also got various projects on the go: ceramics and another virtual reality project about multiple personality disorder, with a strong musical dimension. Finally, I’ve just finished a film with puppets that will be presented when conditions are a little more favourable!
I will sleep when I’m dead (2020) by Jeanne Susplugas is presented on culturevr.fr, an Institut français platform which offers a panoramic view of cultural innovation in virtual reality.
With J’ai fait ta maison dans ma boîte crânienne, Jeanne Susplugas is programmed as part of Chroniques, the Biennale of Digital Imagination (taking place from 12 November 2020 to 17 January 2021). The Institut français is a partner of Chroniques with the Focus digital arts and creations.
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